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Ascend is a non-profit organization serving as a conduit for Washington, DC local government, employers, and education and training providers to ensure all DC residents—particularly adult learners and jobseekers—can earn a livable wage and meet the needs for the 21st century workforce.
The Washington, DC area has traditionally relied on a constellation of public agencies and organizations to provide workforce training and education services to its residents. These efforts—despite significant, well-intentioned investment—have not been effective in increasing the numbers of adults who achieve their education and training goals. One of the challenges is that no one organization has been responsible for coordinating the effort. Ascend DC will fill this gap.
As a coordinating body with a direct-service model, Ascend will provide a network of partners—both individuals and organizations—with resources, advice, and evaluation services to ensure all stakeholders interested in improving the workforce outcomes for adults can foster a highly functioning workforce and education landscape in DC.
Who We Are
Telaekah Brooks, Jeanne Contardo, and Patricia Steele have overlapping expertise in higher education, adult learners, workforce development, corporate sectors, strategic planning, assessment and evaluation, and local DC government. We are all innovators and entrepreneurs, driven to serve the DC’s adult learners—particularly those from historically underserved populations. We all see the need for cross-sector partnerships and for breaking down silos.
Telaekah Brooks is the Associate Provost of Academic Initiatives at Excelsior College. Prior to that, she was the Dean of the School of Professional Studies at Trinity Washington University, where she worked to build and improve academic programs, enrollment, and support services for adult students.
Telaekah has significant experience in improving the academic quality, student support services, rigor, and faculty. At Southeastern University, she served first as Chair of the Business Management and Public Management Department and then as Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs. Prior to both positions, Telaekah was the first Executive Director of the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship, where she provided services, training, and education to small and medium- sized businesses, transformational adults, students, and underserved people in the DC metropolitan area.
As the Founding Director of the Georgia Avenue Business Resource Center, a small business technical assistance provider, Telaekah created an innovative, holistic approach to business development, access to capital, and resource dissemination while counseling clients and raising more than $920,000 in grant funding and contracts for the center.
Telaekah has served as the accreditation liaison officer (ALO) to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and her professional history includes roles at the DC Marketing Center and the DC Department of Housing and Community Development. Telaekah graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Sociology, with a specialty in Law, Criminology, and Deviance from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctorate from the Howard University School of Law.
Jeanne Contardo is a higher education consultant specializing in strategic planning, partnership development with a focus on the business sector, research and policy analysis, and project management for executive and c-suite leaders. Her content expertise includes STEM education, workforce competencies, higher education access, and shaping sustainable cross-sector partnerships.
Prior to her move to consulting, Jeanne was the Vice President of Regional Operations at Excelsior College, where she drove the growth of Excelsior's regional initiatives that helped adult students complete college degrees and access lifelong learning. Before this role, as the Special Assistant to the President, Jeanne served as a strategic and academic lead for Excelsior's Washington, DC-based Initiatives, helping to launch a National Cybersecurity Institute and shape a new Masters in Public Administration. Additionally, Jeanne also worked as Excelsior’s Executive Director of the Council of Experts, bringing together 30-40 leaders in the fields of education, technology, and the workforce who worked with Excelsior to identify and analyze future models of higher education.
Jeanne has also consulted for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and worked in various roles at the Business-Education Forum. She has been a Research Fellow at National Defense University and a Graduate Fellow at the Institute for Higher Education Policy.
Jeanne has served on her local neighborhood’s civic association and is a member of the University of Washington Honors Program Advisory Board. She received her master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education from Teachers College of Columbia University and her PhD in Education Policy and Leadership Studies from University of Maryland, College Park.
Patricia Steele is founder and principal consultant of the research and evaluation firm HigherEd Insight. She has extensive experience providing consultative support consultative services in evaluation, designing research, writing policy briefs, improving data quality and reporting, strategic planning, and project management. She focuses on understanding the needs of low-income populations and expanding educational and employment opportunities to disadvantaged youth and adults. This work includes:
• A four-year evaluation of the Adult College Completion Network of 17 grantees nationwide, funded by Lumina Foundation;
• Execution of a program evaluation for a Nursing Retention grant funded by the Maryland Higher Education Commission at two campuses of the Baltimore Community College;
• Evaluation of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Ivy Tech Community College grant, High Growth and Emerging Industries, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
• Co-development of widely circulated policy publications used to advocate for low-income families, “Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid”; and
• Participation in a national study on students’ perceptions of college costs and other barriers to college access among low-income students.
Some of Patricia’s diverse clientele includes the American Council on Education, Delta Project on College Costs, National Association of College and University Business Officers, NCES’s National Postsecondary Education Cooperative, College Summit, Inc., and HCM Strategists. Earlier in her higher education career, Patricia worked on college campuses in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania in student support services and academic affairs, including multicultural student affairs, international student services, commuter affairs, academic advising, campus ministry, and residential life. She holds a PhD in higher education policy and leadership from the University of Maryland, College Park.